Cromac Street sign in Belfast City

Belfast Giants’ North American Links Captivate the Emerald Isle

The Belfast Giants ice hockey team stands as an unexpected beacon of North American influence in the United Kingdom and Ireland. While ice hockey may not be the first sport that springs to mind in Northern Ireland, the Giants have carved their place as a local treasure, captivating fans, and gaining international recognition.

A key ingredient in their success story is the influx of players who have crossed the Atlantic Ocean to represent the Giants. These players bring not just talent and experience, but a unique style of play that has energised both the team and the entire Elite Ice Hockey League (EIHL).

The Giants have boasted some of the best National Hockey League (NHL) veterans, with names such as Theo Fleury and Kevin Westgarth leaving their mark on and off the ice. Fleury’s arrival for the 2005/06 season was nothing short of electrifying. He made his debut against the Edinburgh Capitals with a bang, scoring three goals and providing four assists.

This impressive feat was overshadowed only by his infamous brawl with Edinburgh’s enforcer, Fredrik Oduya. The duel left the home crowd chanting his name throughout the match. Fleury’s season was one for the history books. He racked up a staggering 22 goals and 52 assists in 34 games, propelling the Giants to the regular season league title.

His performances also earned him the EIHL Player of the Year award and a coveted spot on the All-Star team. Hailed as the most talented player ever to grace the UK ice, Fleury seemed destined for Belfast glory. However, his love affair with the Giants lasted just one season, as he was forced to cut ties with the team after several altercations with visiting fans and match officials.

Westgarth joined the Giants for the 2014/15 season. He featured for the Giants for one year and notched 13 goals and seven assists in 36 games. However, his time at Belfast is more fondly remembered for his off-ice contributions to the team. He was drawn to Belfast not just for hockey, but for the Giants’ unique mission.

Owned by the Odyssey Trust, the Giants aimed to break down the sectarian barriers in Northern Ireland. Their goal was to create a shared space where Catholics and Protestants could come together and cheer for the same team.

The Giants have come a long way since the days of Fleury and Westgarth, racking up seven regular season titles and three play-off championships. They’ll be eager to add to that tally when they take on Coventry Blaze in the 2023/24 Elite League play-off quarterfinals.

The Giants boast a dominant record in this fixture, winning each of their last three meetings against Coventry by a combined score line of 15-6. That kind of firepower has the fans buzzing and bookmakers heavily favouring the Giants to sweep Coventry and book their ticket to the Final Four Weekend in Nottingham.

The Giants are fancied to claim the play-off championship, but the road to glory won’t be a walk in the park. The Sheffield Steelers have already secured a prestigious double, claiming both the regular season title and the Challenge Cup.

Their dominance has seen bookmakers peg them as favourites to complete the treble with a play-off victory, but the Giants are no strangers to stealing the show and defying the odds. They are the reigning play-off champions and are sure to attract plenty of interest on betting apps in Ireland, with Irish punters backing them to defend their crown.

The Giants are a powerhouse in UK ice hockey, and a big part of their success stems from their roster’s strong North American presence. This connection with the United States and Canada is about to get even more exciting with the return of the Friendship Four tournament later this year.

Belfast has played host to this unique event since 2015 – the only National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division One ice hockey tournament held outside North America. The Friendship Four has historically been a prime scouting ground for the Giants, with several current players such as Kohei Sato, Jeff Baum and Miles Gendron all making their Belfast debuts during the tournament.

This year’s edition promises to be another goldmine for talent identification, but it’s about more than just player recruitment. The Friendship Four will strengthen the Giants’ ties with the American hockey community and also provide a platform to showcase their city and their brand of hockey to a wider audience.

Click on icons below to share articles to social.

Recent issues

E-Bulletin Signup

By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive news and event emails from: iIrish. You can revoke your consent to receive emails at any time by using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email. Emails are serviced by Constant Contact.
New to Cleveland Ad

Explore other topics